Speech for Matriculation Ceremony at the University of Buea
Delivered by Mr. Peter Esoka, Nov. 3, 2001
" Brothers and Sisters, We have a Problem"
------- A Reflection on Ethics and Morality in Society
I feel at ease being here. I feel at ease because I am among a people with whom I can identify.
I may not have achieved the academic excellence of many of the friends I have here, but being among you is like having climbed all the rungs of the ladder to the mountain top of such excellence. And like Martin Luther King, Jr., I almost feel like saying I am free. I am free to express myself in a language I hold deeply and dearly at heart. I am free because I can identify with almost everything that surrounds me here. I am free because in the midst of you I feel comfortable, ebullient, enthralled.
I feel like a politician coming back to his constituency where he is venerated, where he is recognized as some body with some value; where he does not feel intimidated. I feel like a child running back to mother and being cuddled and embraced. Yes, I feel like this is indeed where I am supposed to be - "The Place To Be."
It does not matter whatever is said of the University of Buea today. The notion that it is actually "the place to be" will forever blossom in my mind and I will, because of the pride I have in my heart for UB, never trade that notion for anything else. Because indeed, by its nature, UB is "the place to be".
When the Vice Chancellor contacted me by telephone to announce to me that I'd be a special guest at this year's Matriculation, my first reaction was "why me?" Dr. Dorothy Njeuma would have thought better. After all, there are thousands of much better placed people in this society who have greater propensity to talk to an assembly of academicians or aspiring ones like you!
So why me? Surprisingly, however, my response was spontaneous; and that is because I really wanted to be here and to commune in a milieu reserved for people with a different view of life, people in "the place to be". I also knew it was going to be a challenge for me to stand in front of this august assembly and communicate the kind of intelligence befitting such an environment. I am no university professor. I am no politician, although I earlier alluded to it, but I know, were I to pursue any one of these, I would not be found wanting.
UB, - the "place to be". This has many implications. It means you may go searching wherever and you'll find nowhere else. This is "the place to be". This is the place of excellence, of exquisiteness, a place of hope, a place of glory. You know, when you come to UB you feel like you belong - you are a valuable part of it. You do not feel discriminated against or intimidated. You do not feel like you are a wayfarer or a stranger. You feel like somebody with value, because at UB, which is the "place to be", you have value.
But, Brothers and Sisters, we have a problem. I had an opportunity to browse through a little book with the title "Brothers and Sisters, we have a problem" written by Nicky Cruz. Nicky Cruz, in this best seller, examines the plight of young men and women in the slums of New York, where drugs, sex, and gambling have taken the better part of the future of America. Nicky, as a minister of the church, says "There is a heathen America out there that needs you to get out of your comfortable pews. Its dying! ... It's falling for wirchcraft and astrology! You can do something about it ... So wake up! You have the answers. Share them!
And, quoting from the late Keith Green, he adds: "Do you see? Do you see all the people sinking down? Don't you care? Don't you care? Are you going to let them down? How can you be so dead when you've been so well fed? As I read those lines I felt a lump in my throat. I almost choked with emotion. I saw clearly how these lines did not refer to America alone. I saw myself contextualizing them. I saw in them my society."
For, Brothers and Sisters, we have a problem. We have a problem because our society is almost turning into a society without a soul. For when a society seems to thrive without morals or ethics, that society is soulless; it is empty of value. It is decadent; it is wasted; it is corrupt. Our society has become almost a soulless one, because the much talked about "moral revolution" has died. It turned a dangerous corner in our recklessness and it died. And when the soul leaves the body, the body is lifeless - it is dead.
"There can be no viable society without an accepted code of ethics which expresses the ideas pursued, denounces aberrations, sheds light on the path to follow, exalts the virtues and values of society." Those are the words of president Paul Biya as he closed the 5th National Council of the CNU (Cameroon National Union, the only operating political party at the time) on November 21, 1983. He concluded: "The efforts to be undertaken in this regard will aim at bringing about a change of mentality, preventing and penalizing all forms of delinquency, especially delinquency in business, ensuring the promotion of healthy education that inculcates civic responsibility, the quest for effort and devotion, a sense of discipline and integrity."
That was 1983, a time when Cameroon steamed with aspirations that at last a Daniel had come to judgment, At last a Moses had risen from among God's people to lead this nation out of bondage, out of totalitarianism and the iron-rod rule of a certain Amadou Ahidjo. The philosophy of rigor and moralization was sung by every lip, and once again Cameroon looked like that land of promise, that land of glory, that will forever remain engraved in golden letters in our national anthem. But the more we sang that song of moralization and rigor, the more we drowned into decadence, into poverty, into immorality, into losing our integrity, our dignity.
We have lost the respect of the human person, for we violate human rights everyday in different forms. We do not respect any code of ethics because we have deviated from the good sense of being accountable. Our management style is no longer transparent. Political authority is answerable to no one, and public funds are misappropriated at will, and our society us sinking. We no longer have confidence in each other so that we can flourish and enhance the value of each other's potential for our common good. Yes, even the church to which we should turn for spiritual security has become so earthly that those well-fed ministers, priests, and Imams are almost taking the places of their parishioners in brothels, bars, and gambling houses. The moral revolution has become a caricature of itself because we have lost the power of resistance and the wind that used to blow beneath our wings has stopped blowing.
Brothers and Sisters, we have a problem, but we seem to shy away from it. Nicky Cruz tells us to wake up! You ahve the answers - share them!
In some cosmetic way our churches started raising their voices. During its Ruby Jubilee Celebration, the moderator of the Presbyterian Church of Cameroon denounced corruption in all its forms. "We should pray" he said, "that things like greed, the thirst for power, selfishness, corruption, bribery, Nepotism, lies, blackmail, suppression, and oppression, should not be practiced amongst us in the church or out there in society."
But what do we notice? That despite all the prayers, the problems persist. Following the Catholic letter of the Episcopal Conference of 1990, which denounced all forms of immorality, the PCC also came out with a document in 1993 which stated: "All the calls for more transparency seem to be flagrantly undermined and have only ameliorated the rate of poor accountability, embezzlement, and capital flight."
Our nation has become like Allan Patten's South Africa for which he cried. Our young men have become like Kumalo and our young women like Gertrude. And we have begun to cry for a beloved country that's being wasted in its depravation as we continue to live deleteriously.
Would you wonder why this nation should ever be classified as the most corrupt nation in the world? Would you wonder why, because of our attitudes toward what is good, we could be referred to as unethical? Why an inquiry into the nature and grounds of our morality can be considered as having taken a nose dive? Would you wonder why our universities seem to be the breeding places for criminals?
And yet we are talking about "the places to be". Do our universities reflect the dignity and the excellence of academics? Do our academicians show anything for their excellence. Have they not become like some ministers of the church who tell us to do what they say but not what they do? Have they become as degenerate as the ordinary man who finds it difficult to differentiate the good and the bad? For what do we define as ethics? Is it not the study and philosophy of human conduct with emphasis on the determination of right and wrong? Have our academicians not defied the ethic of knowledge to submit themselves to the ignominy of a wasted society? When nepotism and tribalism thrive in a university environment, when licensed mismanagement is encouraged, when fake contracts are signed and given out to favourites, relatives or tribal cohorts, how can we talk of ethics in academics? How can we talk of excellence?
UB is "the place to be and I feel proud about its being "the place to be". But does UB reflect that place to be? Does UB condone bribery, and corruption ? Are admissions into UB justified and verifiable? Is there fraud or attempted fraud during examinations?
We have a problem!
We have a problem because what is wrong has been turned around to look good. Our house is divided and we are increasingly being victimized by the ruthlessness of our debauched and degenerate nature. Our children are following in our footsteps. Our universities have become fruitful grounds for satanism, prostitution, fraud, for cheating and for burglaries. They have become bastions or citadels for unethical deals. "Conmanship" or "Feymanship" is taking a grip on us. Our campuses have become areas of druf deals and alcoholism. Our young women have become little puppets that are spun around by anyone and who could be picked up at every street corner or from under any lamp post.
And this because society has not been able to provide for them a conducive moral environment in which to operate.
Parents have resigned from their duties and have allowed their children to be exposed to the ungodliness of this ethically waning society. "What worries me more than anything among our problems is that of moral decadence in our country. There is the problem of bribery, corruption, lack of dedication to duty, dishonesty, and all such vices."
This is a comment made, by the former Nigerian President Shehu Shagari in 1982, of his country Nigeria. It is a comment that aptly applies to Cameroon. For we live in an environment that is plagued with all kinds of vices, and this has resulted in the depreciation of the standards of our education. Our youth have embraced what is tendentious and profane. Virtue is taken for granted. Like their elders they have become profligate - prodigal, reckless, and improvident. They can today trade themselves for anything that brings them immediate joy, without considering the repercussions. And that is why parents are burying their children today instead of the reverse.
Is knowledge sold through the forceful selling of notes by lecturers in the form of handouts? Is there abusive exploitation of the students? Do some students have to face humiliation and degradation from their professors when they fail to give in to their sexual demands? Is corruption a major preoccupation at UB? Is favoritism a problem? How do we deal with embezzlement, which has rendered society impecunious at UB? Do we at UB abuse our offices and take advantage of the less privileged?
These are the soul searching questions. And if indeed we are where we are, the "place to be", we must wake up. We must get off our comfortable pews and save our community. Let students who cheated cheat no more! Let the lascivious recant their habit. Don't sell yourself for 30 pieces of silver. You may just kiss your life away. Let the drug pushers push no more. Let the dishonest denounce their dishonesty. Let the defaulters in rent payments no longer defraud their landlords. Let the fastness of life not render you depraved. Let the search for fast money not bring disgrace.
To you the authorities, be examples to the young. Be not covetous. Don't so anything from selfish ambition or from desire to boast - but be humble towards one another, always considering others better than yourselves. It is only when all these culminate, when we put virtue in front of vice, that we can indeed proclaim that UB is really "the place to be" and a haven for those young men and women we are honoring today during this matriculation ceremony.